18 April 2024

The Public Service needs people with experience across a range of sectors, roles, service delivery and operational environments. One way to develop your career is to look at opportunities in other agencies to gain new experience and perspectives.  

Moving around the Public Service

The Public Service Act 2020 sets out principles and values for all public servants to follow, ensuring a unified Public Service that acts as a single team, with a spirit of service to the community.

As government priorities shift, or events happen like COVID or Cyclone Gabrielle, public servants need to respond quickly to ensure services continue to be delivered to communities across New Zealand.

Moving skills and capabilities from one part of the Public Service to another means agencies can quickly find employees with existing skills, knowledge or experiences and get them “up and running” faster than starting from scratch.

The nature and complexity of the assignments will vary depending on the situation, context and need. Public servants who are permanent employees can have the opportunity to gain new experiences and perspectives through a range of short or long-term secondments and assignments.

The general principle for temporary assignments is that an employee’s core terms and conditions of employment remain the same, while recognising that the location, hours, and nature of work may temporarily change.

Fixed-term employees, consultants or contractors are not currently eligble for secondments or temporary assignments.

Assignment types 

  • Secondments

    Secondments are the most formal temporary assignment and can be beneficial for employees, agencies and the Public Service.

    They are a great way to gain work experience and professional development as well as enhance connections and understanding between and within agencies. Agencies often use secondments to supplement their workforce in times of higher demand or when specialist capabilities are needed. 

    While most secondments occur within agencies (internal secondments), inter-agency (external) secondments, are critical to ensuring the continued delivery of services, especially in times of crisis or high volume, short-term need.

    In an inter-agency secondment, the secondee agrees to move temporarily to a host agency while remaining an employee of their home agency. The home agency will remain responsible for the payment of salary and other terms and conditions of employment; however, the secondee will take day-to-day direction from the host agency. 

    Internal secondments occur within an agency. Secondees will take day-to-day direction and management from their host manager for the duration of the secondment while keeping their substantive position in the home team.

    Download the secondment agreement template(DOCX, 61 KB)

    Download the table of responsibilities of host and home agencies (DOCX, 28 KB)

  • Taskforces and project teams

    A taskforce or a project team may be brought together for a limited time to work on a common goal or focus on addressing specific issues, which may cross organisational and functional boundaries.

    A taskforce or project team is generally established to achieve a discrete set of objectives or outcomes within a defined timeframe. These teams rarely work in isolation, and often collaborate or work across agencies, other taskforces, project teams and non-government organisations to achieve their objectives.

  • Short-term assignments

    The duration of short-term assignments may range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the circumstances at the time. Unlike a secondment, they may not require a formal signed agreement. Regardless of the duration or level of formality or complexity, it is always advisable to keep a record of the assignment. Shadowing, job swaps and acting roles are some of the types of short-term assignments described below.

    • Shadowing is a development opportunity useful for someone new to a role, which involves accompanying and observing someone with more (or alternative) experience. It’s also useful to get a preview of a role, team, or agency before deciding to make a more formal shift.
    • Job-swaps between individuals or teams entail exchanging all or some of each other’s tasks or activities for a limited time. Job swaps are useful to share knowledge, identify improvement opportunities and experience alternative working environments. A written agreement may be required, particularly where the swap is between agencies.
    • In acting roles, individuals temporarily assume the responsibilities of another role. Acting assignments often come about to backfill a temporary absence, when the incumbent is in another temporary role, or while filling the vacancy for that role. Acting for an extended period in a role with greater responsibilities than the individual’s substantive role, may attract an allowance. In these cases, acting roles are usually treated as secondments. Delegated responsibilities should be documented regardless of the duration of the assignment.
  • Surge workforce

    Public servants are encouraged to join the surge workforce. This is a pool of volunteer generalists and specialists that can be called upon in response to a local, regional or national crisis, or surges in demand for services. 

    To respond effectively to emergencies, and support the recovery from emergencies, lead agencies rely on support from across the Public Service.

    In recent years, New Zealand public servants have provided crucial support in response and recovery to events such as the Kaikōura earthquake, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Auckland anniversary weekend floods, and Cyclone Gabrielle.

    Benefits of joining

    Joining the surge workforce gives you the opportunity to:

            help communities respond to and recover from emergencies

           gain exposure working in a different agency and/or in a different area of work

           build relationships with other public servants and expand your professional networks

           develop new skills, gain experience and capability

    Eligibility and how to join

    All employees currently employed in the Public Service can register to be part of the surge workforce. To join, first create a profile  using your Public Service email address. While on deployment, you will continue to be employed by your home agency and on the terms and conditions of your existing employment agreement.

Benefits of temporary assignments

Taking opportunities outside of your usual role can provide you with new experiences and a different perspective to working in the Public Service. A temporary assignment can allow you to support an agency or government priority or even stand up in a surge response and contribute to work that supports services or initiatives which benefit New Zealanders.

The benefits of temporary assignments can help improve your:

  • knowledge and specialist skills
  • access to new development opportunities
  • versatility and adaptability
  • leadership capability and professional networks
  • decision-making and interpersonal skills

Finding temporary opportunities 

Whether you’re looking at a temporary move within your own agency or organisation, or across to a different agency, it’s a good idea to reflect on what your next step might be. 

You might have a clear development plan in mind that you’re working towards, or you might be open to new ideas and opportunities. 

If you’re not sure, we encourage you to have a conversation with your manager, a trusted friend or advisor, or your internal recruitment team, who can help explore options and point you in the right direction to find the right opportunities.

Temporary opportunities, including secondments, short-term and fixed-term roles for permanently employed public servants are available at jobs.govt.nz

When you have found an opportunity, you may want to consider

Application stage

Even if you know the new team and role, be prepared to share your stories and experience, and how they align to the capabilities needed for the temporary assignment. 

Think about how the role aligns with what you're looking to achieve and where you want to grow your skills. 

Before starting your temporary assignment 

Discuss expectations and responsibilities with your home and host manager. These should be noted down in your confirmation letter.

Discuss what staying connected will look like with your current (home) manager. 

During your temporary assignment

Keep track of your achievements and progress.

Stay connected with your home manager.

Coming to the end of your temporary assignment

Review what will be needed for hand over with your host manager.

Think about what you've learned in your temporary role and how this new knowledge might help your substantive work or team.

Returning to your substantive role

Reflect on and celebrate all you've learned from the experience.

Share the skills and knowledge you gained with your home organisation, so the wider group can benefit. 


Glossary of terms 

Employee refers to permanent employees of Public Service agencies.

Home agency refers to the employee's permanent employer.

Host agency refers to the agency with the secondment/temporary assignment opportunity.

Manager refers to the individual holding delegated line management responsibilities and could include an employee's team leader, manager, or other reporting officer like senior, principal, or chief advisor.

Temporary means non-permanent roles in reference to job shadowing, job swaps, project-based work or taskforces, acting roles or secondments and surge arrangements. 

Legal requirements refers to:



Information for managers and HR practitioners

Managers and HR practitioners play a vital role in supporting and promoting the temporary movement of employees across the Public Service.

  • you will already have existing internal policies and processes to help you navigate the details. Here’s a wider context to consider when looking at temporary assignments across agencies:
  • how might this assignment support or contribute to a wider Public Service outcome?  Look for efficiencies in cross-agency programmes by sharing resources, knowledge and experience
  • plan ahead; understand your agency’s workforce plan so you can make informed decisions to cover upcoming programmes of work, extended leave, job sharing, business continuity needs and skills shortages
  • seek opportunity to encourage information and knowledge sharing throughout the assignment, don’t wait until final handover.

Temporary assignments can help: 

  • manage peaks and troughs in workforce demand, addressing short-term gaps in capabilities and covering periods of extended leave
  • share knowledge and expertise by providing a diversity of perspectives and experiences
  • enable collaborative approaches across agencies and within the wider system
  • aid in the development and delivery of government priorities and policies
  • retain deep-knowledge experiences, skills and experts in the Public Service
  • develop and grow the experience and capabilities of employees, which align with your agency needs in delivering for Aotearoa New Zealand.

If you have an opportunity for someone to join your team, consider:

  •  how the opportunity can be made accessible and visible to skilled and interested employees
  • how the assignment could be accommodated using flexible work arrangements
  • how you and your team can best set up your new team member for success. What does induction look like for those joining on a temporary assignment?
  • what requirements you will need to have someone perform that role, e.g., if a security clearance is required, or if the person will receive delegations.
  • what expectations you have for the outcome of the assignment. Communicate these clearly

If someone is leaving your team, consider:

  • what capacity does the team have to back-fill the person going on assignment, or plans needed to cover their work e.g., additional support or reallocation of work?
  • what does keeping in touch realistically look like to you and your team member and what areas would you like to be covered?
  • what bringing your team member back on board will look and feel like

Working in the Public Service

People sign up to the Public Service because they want to make a difference. Working in the Public Service will give you opportunities, challenges and the ability to develop an exciting career. 

Read more